Home' acuity : Acuity Feb 15 Contents Expectation gap
Most experts say there is a gap between the promises made
post-disaster, and the reality of rebuilding.
Problems can arise because the pressure on agencies (both
official and non-government) to respond diminishes over time.
McAwley says that in the first week or so after a disaster, there is
enormous pressure on all aid-providing agencies to respond.
But over time, the world forgets. Bureaucratic inertia begins
to set in, and concerns about such things as spending money
well (which nearly always means more bureaucracy) become
“In the end, some aid takes four or five years, or more, to
deliver,” he says.
One of the problems is that survivors of a disaster are not
in a strong position to exert political pressure or make their
“ Their local communities are often
disorganised or have even fallen
apart. Local leaders may well have
died in the disaster,” McCawley says.
“Often, therefore, there is not
much that survivors can do when
the support that they were promised
falls below expectations.”
Skidmore says that following
hurricane Katrina many who lost
homes (the most affected were of lower
income) received assistance to rebuild.
“However, instead of using those
funds to rebuild many bought new cars instead. Even today
there are neighbourhoods that were never rebuilt.
“Sometimes assistance enables homeowners to rebuild in
vulnerable areas. When the storm comes again, they are again
eligible to receive assistance. So we encourage risky behaviour
at taxpayer expense.”
How do we narrow the gap between the promise and reality
McCawley says all governments (both local and
international) need to change the way they plan for, and
respond to, disasters. He says the emphasis needs to change.
“Firstly, there needs to be more emphasis on disaster
“ Too often, agencies wait until a disaster occurs to respond.
But there are many ways that we can anticipate disasters and
take steps to prepare for them.”
Local communities should be equipped to respond to likely
disasters because the most urgent need for assistance is in the
first 12 hours or so after a disaster.
McCawley says official agencies often take days –
sometimes weeks – to arrive. Thus one lesson is “go local, and
build local preparedness”.
The World Bank’s Drees-Gross says a key is disaster risk
“There is debate
about whether the
effect is positive or
negative, particularly in
mapping: relocating people away from the most disaster
prone areas and making infrastructure, particularly transport,
Preparation also includes early warning systems. Cyclones,
for example, are easy to track a couple of days ahead and an
SMS can warn people what to expect.
But he also says governments should have contingency
funds for smaller disasters (1-3% of GDP).
For larger disasters, governments should have contingency
risk insurance (which pays out right after disaster strikes) based
on a mathematical model that estimates calculated loss.
“Most countries don’t have disaster risk insurance,” he says.
McCawley says that after disasters have occurred, aid needs
to be provided very quickly.
“Current procedures for disaster assistance are
bureaucratic, often expensive, and cumbersome,” he says.
“ The defensive slogan of ‘build
back better’ reflects the attitude of
officials in many agencies – they are
more concerned with getting their
bureaucratic planning procedures
right than responding quickly.”
Skidmore says disasters can
actually trigger improved economic
gains over the longer-run if new
technology is embedded in
His research has found that disasters can influence society’s
investment decisions and culture.
“Areas with a higher propensity for disasters tend to invest
more in human capital such as education and have greater
societal trust,” he says.
The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA)
was established on 29 March 2011 to lead and coordinate the
ongoing recovery effort in Christchurch, including helping
develop a recovery strategy.
Acting chief executive Michelle Mitchell says that
international research shows it takes a city 10-15 years to
recover from a major disaster.
Despite New Zealand being a developed country with access
to capital and a skilled workforce, it will still take a much longer
time to recover than everybody expects, ERSA’s Kirby says.
He likens rebuilding to an IT project.
“It takes twice as long and costs twice as much [as what
Yet Christchurch is making progress, including completing
a number of “anchor projects” designed to create further
development opportunities close to existing amenities.
Construction has started on a bus interchange, justice and
emergency services precinct and the Avon River precinct.
FOCUS DISASTER RECOVERY
acuity | FEBRUARY 2015
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